Today we wrap up 2019 by pouring one out for the homies we lost this year. 2019 was a rough year for Oregon craft beer. More breweries and beer bars closed this year than perhaps any year on record since prohibition. Still, we are not ready to declare that the sky is falling; more craft beer joints are still opening than closing. Still, it’s important to look back and appreciate those who paved the way for those that came before and perhaps even learn from mistakes. For every Bridgeport Brewing there is a Great Notion, and we will continue to see more satellite taprooms and better selection coming into the suburbs.
Agrarian Ales was one of Oregon’s best beer destinations, a farmhouse brewery in a barn with an acre of land to walk around with beer in hand. Agrarian Ales grew its own hops, vegetables and herbs for beers, made its own in-house pizza using some of those ingredients, hosted live music, outdoor games, hop picking parties, and more. That all came to an end in March after 7 years of business. Agrarian was founded by brothers Ben Jr. and Nathan Tilley on their family’s property. It was a quick hit with Eugene residents, the farm was a short drive out to Coburg, Oregon, and their involvement with the community and the beautiful outdoor setting were big parts of the draw. Agrarian was a small but cult favorite brewery that distributed to Portland and was bottling its beers, before a variety of issues stemming from mismanagement of funds to legislative issues with operating a working brewery and taproom out of a barn. Read the full story on what became of Agrarian Ales here.
The Abbey Bar & Bottleshop
Portland’s last imported Belgian/European beer bar and bottleshop closed up shop in August. The Abbey Bar & Bottleshop first opened in spring of 2014 as an intimate Belgian-style tavern and small bottle shop. They served a limited selection of European-style foods like frites and croque monsieur sandwiches. They even expanded the operation in 2016 when they opened a second location just a few blocks up the way on NW 23rd with a larger space and selection, but closed that 2 years later in 2018. The original Abbey Bar made it to five years in operation when they closed in August, sadly it was the last of it’s kind since Bazi Bierbrasserie closed the year before.
Columbia River Brewing
Homebrewer turned pro Rick Burkhardt and his family had a nice long run in the Hollywood neighborhood with Columbia River Brewing. Burkhardt leased the brewpub after Laurelwood Brewing closed up its pizza pub location in 2010. Columbia River had its ups and downs; when it took over the space, locals were not happy that it was no longer kid friendly. The beer was solid, though, and Columbia River won a number of medals over the years. They also tried their hand at bottling and distribution, but that didn’t work out because the bottles were too expensive and demand wasn’t there. Eventually, they settled into just being a local pub, but in May 2019 Burkhardt decided to retire and close up Columbia River. The full service restaurant and brewery is still there, available and up for lease as a turnkey operation.
Sam Bond’s Brewing
The offshoot of Eugene’s popular bar and music venue Sam Bond’s Garage (which remains open), Sam Bond’s Brewing’s nearly six year run ended on June 30, 2019 with a unanimous decision by the owners to stop investing capital into the brewery. A perennial lack of marketing meant that the brewery could not attract enough customers to its pub or adequately sell its beer through distributors.
Sam Bond’s brewed somewhat old school classics: sweet, nutty Filbert Brown Ale and resinous Crankshaft IPA were its mainstays, and made it onto store shelves into 12oz cans. The brewery and restaurant were located just east of the Federal courthouse, which essentially shielded it from view. The space included a stage for regular live music and trivia nights, and hosted group events as well.
A stalwart local taproom and family friendly pub, 15th Ave. was the second location of the Hawthorne Hophouse. Owner Leah Lockwood sold both Hophouse locations last winter, and while the original still exists under new ownership, due to break-ins and a possible sale of the building, the new owners of 15th Ave. closed up shop very suddenly in September.
Perhaps they had advance word of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s impending ban on CBD in alcoholic beverages, but Coalition Brewing threw in the towel in October, without warning to its fans. Coalition was among the first to open in the craft brewing boom of 2010. It operated a small taproom and distributed their beer on draft and in bottles in Portland and Eugene. In recent years, Coalition had pivoted from straight ales to CBD beers, a move that had gained lots of press and staved off the dragging sales. Coalition sold its hard assets and closed up shop on Halloween. The new Gorges Beer Co. is planning to take over the spot by opening a taproom and small brewery near the end of January.
Defeat River Brewery
Reedsport, Oregon was a “Wakonda” town, the kind epitomized in Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion. But with the decline of the timber industry, Reedsport became another in a string of coastal towns to lose its mojo, and is less a stop than a blip on Highway 101. Defeat River Brewery was founded by best homebrew buds Trevor Frazier and Levi Allen, who did much of the brewery’s buildout work themselves. Defeat River was a beacon of hope for independent business and commerce in Reedsport, which saw a bump in recreational tourism in the last decade. It closed on November 24, 2019. The brewery could not comment at this time on the reasons for its closure.
Frazier and Allen spent three years, from 2013-2016 trying to get the brewery open; the initial location falling through and funding (for which an Indiegogo campaign was deployed) added hurdles to hurdles. And with a staff of two, the taproom was only open several days a week. The brewery, naturally, accrued a strong local following. They even worked with the city government to allow people to carry mugs of beer off premises for the 2019 Oktoberfest celebration.
Production consisted primarily of hop forward beers like 1.21 Jigahops! and Thor CDA. The brewery was an early customer of Mecca Grade Estate Malt, a particular point of pride for Frazier and Allen. Defeat River’s beer was not widely distributed away from the coast, but did find handles in Bend. It was picked up briefly by Eugene-based Julian Sinclair Distribution, and its Douglas fir tip infused ale, Firry Sweater, made an appearance at the Holiday Ale Fest in 2017.
The brewery taproom was a lovely, wood-clad space with surprisingly comfortable tractor saddle stools at the bar, and one of the most pleasant brewery bathrooms in the state (for those of you keeping track). After a day scurrying over the dunes on the John Dellenback Trail, a visit to Defeat River was a fitting treat.
The biggest closure of 2019 was, sadly, not completely unexpected. Bridgeport Brewing was Oregon’s oldest brewery. Its flagship IPA helped start the hop revolution. Bridgeport opened in 1984, was sold to Texas-based Gambrinus Company in 1995 and closed in February of 2019.
The craft brewery boom of 2011-2013 was not good for the brewery. New, trendier breweries made a variety of styles, while Bridgeport stuck to old English-influenced recipes. When they decided to change things up and abandon classics like Blue Heron Pale Ale, the new stuff wasn’t what people wanted either. Bridgeport did have a later-in-life hit with Hop Czar IPA, a great take on the more modern, lighter-bodied and stronger west coast IPA. But, for some reason, they changed it up, did dark versions and other variations, and popularity fell off just as hazy IPAs and kettle sours were coming into play. There is much more to the story, a confluence of events led to the company’s dissolution, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the brand is brought back in some way.
Back in June, Woodbox Cider co-founder Mike Thierfelder started advertising his equipment for sale and plans to close. A last ditch effort to sell the business and assets fell through and Woodbox Cider held on for a few more months before officially closing. Thierfelder mentioned everything from wanting to move out of the city, competitiveness in cidermaking, and issues with the ownership structure as reasons to close. Woodbox Cider was a favorite among connoisseurs. Read the full story of their struggles here.
Burnside Brewing Co.
One of the most surprising and sudden closures of the year was 9-year-old Burnside Brewing Co. Burnside was founded by Roots Organic Brewing co-owner Jason McAdam and Jay Gilbert who has previously been with Full Sail Brewing. Burnside was one of the major openings of 2011, the first new brewery to put more emphasis on gastronomical adventures alongside experimental beers. It had big hits with Sweet Heat and Couch Lager, and events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival. A combination of behind-the-scenes drama, a slowing and more competitive market, and a possibility of the building being sold and/or lease not renewed led to an abrupt closure before Super Bowl Sunday in February.
Hi-Wheel Fizzy Wine
This unique brand of alcoholic and carbonated citrus-based beverages was popular right out of the gate with cider drinkers. Though they described them as “Fizzy Wines” and were sold as more of a hard cider, they were more craft wine cooler than anything. Owner Ken Bonnin Jr. did a good job crafting flavorful combinations like Blackberry Habanero and Carrot Chai and they had a popular taproom on Northeast Dekum in Portland. Hi-Wheel seemed primed to blow-up when it began distribution with Running Man Distributors, but for whatever reason multiple expansion plans to relocate fell through.
When Henry’s Tavern opened in downtown Portland in 2004, it was big news. Not only was it trading on the historic Henry Weinhard’s Brewing brand, but were in the old and semi-restored building where the once legendary brewery was located. Beer geeks talked about Henry’s endlessly for their 100 draft beers, which was the most in Portland at the time; the extended bar ice luge for drinks was also buzzworthy. But then, more beer bars started cropping up with better curated selections, the amount of taps was not as impressive, and neither was the corporate atmosphere and the fact they turned it into a national chain.
Laurelwood Brewing – Sellwood
A brewpub staple, Laurelwood Brewing helped put Portland breweries on the map for families; making brewpubs more welcoming. Laurelwood opened in 2001 on NE 40th in Portland. By 2014 they had five locations but have since opened and closed numerous Laurelwood outposts, the last satellite pub was their Sellwood spot. At the time, Laurelwood cited issues with the building owner and lease but shortly thereafter announced that Ninkasi Brewing was purchasing the company. Laurelwood’s flagship home on NE Sandy and 51st is still going strong.
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
Though Rock Bottom was usually overlooked by beer geeks, its Portland location has been one of the only breweries in downtown for many years. The brewers also did make some great beers when the corporate structure let them branch out into their own recipes. Rock Bottom was a surprise closure in October, it seemed to catch everyone by surprise and reminded many that they hadn’t visited in years. Rock Bottom has been pretty mum on what happened or what is happening with the building, the brewhouse, and the staff.
Lompoc Brewing 5th Quadrant and Sidebar
The mini local brewpub empire that was Lompoc Brewing came to an end in October. It wasn’t a huge surprise, since Lompoc had closed its NW 23rd taproom last September of 2018 and the Hedge House location on SE Division in 2017. Still, Lompoc was found around grocery stores and taprooms around Oregon, and its 5th Quadrant location and Sidebar were still popular.
“We’ve been pretty slow, and to be quite honest, Lompoc needs a rebrand, a refresh, and at this time I just don’t have the resources to do that,” says Fechter when we spoke with him in. “I am basically just leaving the space for the landlords.”
Fechter’s Lompoc-affiliated bar, Oaks Bottom Public House, is remaining open in Sellwood, burning through the last of Lompoc’s beer along with guest taps. With the loss of Lompoc Brewing, we also lose long running popular events like the Chowder Challenge and the Black Out Beer Fest. If one can take away something positive, it’s that Lompoc head brewer Bryan Keilty is part of the new Gorges Beer Co. project that will take over Coalition Brewing in the new year.
Avid Cider PDX
One of the most bizarre closures of 2019 was Avid Cider’s downtown Portland taproom and restaurant in November. It’s so strange because Avid Cider is one of Oregon’s most successful cideries; its Portland location was an expensive and high profile build-out that had barely been open for a year. Making it even crazier, it had just held a media preview for the debut of its new weekend brunch only days before they closed without any warning. It never even opened to the public for the brunch service that it was pushing. Avid quickly removed references and accounts for the Portland taproom and left no notice except for a small sign in the taproom window.
After a highly publicized battle with alt-right group Patriot Prayer, Portland’s punk rock cidery Cider Riot announced plans to sell the biz earlier this fall. Owner Abram Goldman-Armstrong had grown the operation from a nano setup in his home garage to a sizable production space and taproom on NE Couch. After months of trying to sell the business, Cider Riot closed on November 10th The reasons for its closure was more so the accumulation of debt than its much talked about ties to Antifa. Though the business is shuttered, Goldman-Armstrong is working on a deal to bring the brand back as a contracted label.
The Oregon City axe throwing, celtic-inspired craft brewery announced it were closing just last week after it lost its lease. Feckin was known for its milk stouts and coffee beers, live music and other Irish-themed products. For a time, Feckin was the home of the Oregon City Brewers United collective in 2016, which included Shattered Oak Brewing and Batch 1. That fell apart when the latter two opened their own spot called The Hive.
Feckin opened a smokehouse at its taproom to kickstart business in 2017, and then got into axe throwing in 2018. Celtic Axe Throwing is now the Feckin sister business with lanes set up at Laurelwood Brewing on Sandy and at 1859 Cider in Salem. Feckin owner Mark Maher tells us he is looking for a new location in Oregon City, so we may not have heard the last of Feckin Brewery.
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.
Aaron Brussat is a complex living organism with an interest in all things fermented. He started writing about and working in the beer industry in 2010. His experience stems primarily from spending six years at The Bier Stein as a beer steward, homebrewing since 2005, and passing the BJCP and Certified Cicerone exams. Highlights along the way include numerous collaborations with local brewers, curating beer dinners at The Bier Stein, and traveling to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Peru, and New Zealand (as well as many parts of the U.S.) for a chance to drink beer at the source.